What's next for marketers in the 'age of artificial intelligence'?

George John

I’m sure many people would be surprised by the comment that their computer knows them better than their friends and family. But a recent study from Stanford and Cambridge Universities has revealed this is true. In fact, researchers found that using Artificial Intelligence (AI) they were able to predict and study a participant’s personality by analysing just 10 Facebook likes.

Over the last year we’ve seen AI appear in the news agenda with increasing frequency. The Turing Test of a computer’s intelligence was met, AI start-ups were acquired by internet giants, Hollywood movies including CHAPPIE, Ex Machina and Her were based solely on AI storylines, but it was the risks that really made the headlines.

Highly regarded public figures, such as Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking, have warned that we should be cautious of the rapid evolution of AI. In my opinion, I believe with the proper safeguards and procedures in place, the end of the world at the hands of robot armies is unlikely. However, while there may be potential threat to the jobs we know today, overall I think AI will bring about more good than it will evil.

When it comes to marketing, I believe AI will continue to impact the sector in two ways. Firstly the types of jobs marketeers will do and secondly the way campaigns are conceived, run and measured.

If we take marketing jobs first, there is already fear that programmatic buying systems are threatening the jobs of media planners and media buyers. Technology and automation has been taking people out of factories and reducing the size of typing pools for years, but all the while it has created new roles and new opportunities. This has freed up the creative potential of humans and allowed them to spend their time developing all kinds of new ideas.

When we look at the marketing universe today, many of the jobs people have now didn’t even exist a decade or two ago: web designers, SEO consultants, social media experts and mobile and web app developers are all relatively young professions. The scale of the opportunity and volume of data these new marketing platforms are creating is changing the role of the marketer and the skills marketing departments require. Companies are now employing big data analysts and data scientists in marketing departments to uncover insights that will drive business decisions.

We’re seeing yet more roles emerge in this world of big data driven decision making – the marketing technologist, who can bridge the gap between the marketing function and IT, and the SVPs of digital strategy, who understand the potential of harnessing all this data and technology to improve the effectiveness of marketing across every channel, and drive revenues.

As marketing technology and the capabilities of machine learning continue to evolve, these roles are going to be in greater demand. And who’s to say what job developments in AI will create in the future, but I think it’s fair to suggest that for every task AI will replace there will definitely be a new, more interesting and effective opportunity created.

The role of the CMO has already been revolutionised by AI. The demands on the modern day CMO are quite extraordinary, although their central and long-term objective of creating revenue and driving brand awareness remains the same.

Technological developments in marketing have certainly led to the broadening of options available and there have never been more channels with which a marketer can reach their target market, nor have CMOs had so much data available to them with which they can use to make decisions. They have also not been held to as high a level of accountability for producing results which provide effective return on investment and perfectly hit their markets touch points as they are today.

With the use of AI in marketing we’re actively talking about creating programmes to solve problems that are beyond human scale challenges and assisting CMOs in achieving their goals more effectively.

For example, look at a large advertiser such as Tesco, a brand like this has the potential to interact with millions of current and potential customers every day. Tesco has an extremely wide brand appeal and can serve products to a vast spectrum of society. If there are 60 million people in the UK and Tesco has 20 potential opportunities to interact with each individual a week that means there are 1.2 billion possible interactions at stake.

It is impossible for a human marketer or even a large team to perfectly calculate and place specific ads that appeal to those individuals’ specific wants based on their previous purchasing or browsing history. However, AI and machine learning does have the mechanical capacity to make this possible.

AI has the potential to take the decision over which channels will be most appropriate to reach the customer out of the hands of the CMO and their department, calculating those decisions for them in real-time and enabling the marketeers to focus on different questions. In the not too distant future, I believe marketeers will be spending a lot more time working out exactly what goal it is they want to achieve and how they will measure success.

Moving to the second area where I believe AI will impact marketing, at the moment decisions over which products or services a business promotes are largely down to human choices. But in the future, I believe systems in all kinds of businesses will be able to recognize where there is need and market appropriately without human intervention.

AI working at an airline, for example, could recognize that a certain route is regularly under used by passengers. Its systems would automatically trigger a campaign that targets customers who may be interested in flying that route and offer incentives via the most appropriate channel (offline or online).

It’s not just when to initiate a campaign that will be changed thanks to AI; I think machine learning has the potential to fundamentally change the way we market businesses, products and services.

Currently, with the possible exception of social media, marketing is a one-way channel. Marketeers conceive the message, deliver it to the consumer and hope it elicits a response or action. As AI technology improves and evolves I think we will see it progress beyond selecting the right message and design (crafted by humans) to deliver to the right person, over the right channel, at the most opportune time, to actually having a two way conversation in real-time.

To achieve this, machines will need to be able to make the right decisions to construct a persuasive two-way conversation with a wide variety of audiences. They will have the intelligence to deliver many convincing messages, replies and retorts in real-time. And marketers will need to learn to become experts in managing these machines and establishing the parameters to ensure they conduct these conversations in ways that are appropriate to the company and brand. After all, the one thing that robots lack that humans have is common sense.

One thing is certain, the emergence and continued development of AI in the marketing sphere is revolutionizing the sector, and I believe for the better. It will provide marketers with more time to identify their goals, achieve them with greater accuracy whether this be generating awareness, attracting new customers, or identifying new revenue streams.

Most importantly it will free up human creative potential and create a myriad of new roles and opportunities that we can’t even begin to imagine.

George John is co-founder and chairman of the board at Rocket Fuel

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